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The American Civil War: A Military History

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  1,060 Ratings  ·  144 Reviews
The greatest military historian of our time gives a peerless account of America’s most bloody, wrenching, and eternally fascinating war.

In this long-awaited history, John Keegan shares his original and perceptive insights into the psychology, ideology, demographics, and economics of the American Civil War. Illuminated by Keegan’s knowledge of military history he provides a
Paperback, 432 pages
Published December 7th 2010 by Vintage (first published 2009)
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Aug 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
Interesting international views of the U.S. Civil War. For instance, Britain leant heavily toward the South, which sought diplomatic recognition, but was put off by north British mill owners and workers who were staunchly anti-slavery.

Many generals of both North and South were graduates of the West Point Class of 1846. Grant and Sherman, I already knew, were supremely competent fighters. But I did not know that Robert E. Lee was so highly regarded among that class, nor that he was a brilliant f
Nov 01, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: military history buffs
I started this book with great enthusiasm. As I was reading there were things that started bothering me about the text, though I couldn't put my finger on what exactly was wrong. Then I read McPherson's review in the New York Times
in which he lists a number of factual errors in the book. Now I'm just a Civil War buff, not a historian; but I've read enough Civil War literature to know that something was wrong here.

Secondly, the book just didn't seem to be
Dec 22, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone looking for a clear history of the U.S. Civil War
Shelves: history, reviewed
Excuse my naivete but I'm shocked that one of the best histories of the U.S. Civil War has been written by an Englishman. Granted that I'm a Keegan fan and thought his history of WW I helped me understand that war for the first time. Nevertheless, I would have thought that there was no room for new insights into the Civil War until I read this book.

His ability to show the impact of geography on the conflict was outstanding. His analysis of the economic aspects of the conflict was clear. His expl
Bookmarks Magazine
In his broad, single-volume history, Keegan offers an outsider's view of the American Civil War, providing fresh insights from a bracingly impartial perspective. However, though critics were quick to voice their admiration for Keegan's previous works, they were deeply disappointed by The American Civil War. His narrative is lamentably riddled with inaccuracies, including the dates, locations, and events of major battles. He incorrectly attributes well-known quotes, presents disproved myths as fa ...more
Steven Peterson
John Keegan is a major military historian. His book, "The Face of War," is a fascinating examination of major battles from a very different perspective. But his one volume history of the Civil War disappoints.

On the one hand, this is a standard one volume history of the Civil War. It takes a largely chronological view of the war, with some concluding chapters on very specific aspects of the war, such as naval battle, black soldiers, the war at home, Walt Whitman's role in and view of the war, an
Bill Rogers
I bought this book expecting to be impressed. I was, but not in a good way.

Some time in the past, I don't know when, I read Keegan's single volume histories of World War I and World War II. I liked these, so when I saw he had also done a book on the US Civil War I jumped on it. I expected this to be as good. Unfortunately, while there are many things to like about this book, it wanders and is sloppily written.

On the good side of the ledger, Keegan emphasizes the practical issues of the war, whil
Apr 09, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
What a strange and disappointing book. John Keegan was a well known military historian; one of his books, The Face of Battle, broke new ground in the description of the experience of fighting, from generals to the humble private. Unfortunately, the book under review does not attain the standard of that earlier work.

I picked up this book after watching the film Lincoln, which I enjoyed immensely. I realised while watching the film that my knowledge of the American Civil War was pretty sketchy at
Aug 08, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
I picked this book up as a complete Civil War novice. One day I realized, I've absolutely no idea about any of the battles (apart from Gettysburg) that were fought and hardly any of the personnel involved. John Keegan comes with an impeccable background as one of the foremost military historians of our times, so I thought, why not, this will be illuminating.

I think I've got a good grip of the timeline, and some of the major battles that were fought (according to one count, there were something
Donna Davis
This was a disappointment. Keegan's history of World War I was outstanding, and likewise he did a brilliant job with World War II. In contrast, his treatment of the American Civil War is nothing special. His sources are secondary; he hasn't spent countless hours sitting in local and regional libraries reading collections of letters or rare documents. The man lives in England, and as far as I can see, he may have written this book from there. His maps are insufficient, and the ones he does use ar ...more
James (JD) Dittes
Keegan is simply the best military historian writing today, and his "American Civil War" gets the perspective just about right. American history buffs are used to seeing dozens of new books about the CIvil War come out every year, focused on individual battles, specific regiments, letters, etc.

It took an outsider--and a Brit with no less than Keegan's military expertise--to write a definitive book like this. Keegan has made a close study of American geography (his account of the assault on Vicks
John Bianchi

John Keegan remains the most exciting military historian currently writing, and I had looked forward to The American Civil War. Keegan could have benefitted from a more active editorial hand; several passages, which were key points in what is essentially an expanded essay, were repeated nearly verbatim several times over the course of the argument when a simple reference would have sufficed. Not a narrative and therefore not as engaging as James MacPherson's single-volume history, Keegan's effo
Apr 07, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Très plaisant à lire, un auteur agréable qui approfondi l'aspect humain et social du plus grand conflit des USA. Seules réserves, les évenements sont abordés par théatres et non chronologiquement, ce qui est parfois un peu difficile quand on n'a qu'une vague connaissance initiale du sujet, et la cartographie est un peu faible.
Lars Sønderskov
Meget skuffet. Kegan er den bedste militærhistoriker, men denne bog er tung og ustruktureret.
Mark Skates
Apr 01, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A interesting perspective on the political and geographical influences on the War.
Mar 17, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
John Keegan is a brilliant military historian, and he turns his attention in this book to the Civil War. There is, in truth much to like about this book. First, unique among Civil War historians, Keegan does fair justice to Montgomery Meigs, the “supremely competent and incorruptible” officer who erected the dome of the Capitol, built Washington’s water supply, and most importantly for the North, ensured the strategic use of transport capabilities to keep the Union army well supplied throughout. ...more
Aug 27, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very interesting history of the Civil War, because the author has a relatively detached perspective, while most of the histories of the Civil War have been written by Americans, who are shaped in one way or another by the national mythology that has grown up around the war. While most of the story is familiar to even moderately attentive American students,

Some very interesting points Keegan raised, in no particular order:
- The South had a lack of critical cities or other place to attack (Rich
David Linzee
Jul 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My first thought was, we have so many great Civil War books already, why do we need one from an Englishman? But Keegan is as lucid and readable as ever, and not being American, he makes fresh observations. One is that the Civil War was remarkable (and awful) not just because battles were bloody, but because there were so many of them. The South didn't offer many vital targets for the North to aim at. So the Confederate armies, and the willingness of the Confederacy to fight, became the targets, ...more
Aug 22, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent book that made me interested in the Civil War.
Excellent book about a topic that I have never been particularly interested in prior reading this. Well written, and Keegan uses his typical style to bring life to a conflict that in the hands of less skilled writers could seem dull.
Keegan makes the era come to life, and has a knack for portraying each of the figures as living, breathing individual. I highly recommend this book.
Jun 01, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love anything by John Keegan, one of the preeminent writers of historical warfare, though I have to admit while I liked this book it was not one of his best. Perhaps not deep enough for me. Just my opinion.
Rasmus Nord
Feb 24, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As my first book on the American Civil War it was a great introduction, with the kind of broad scope I was looking for, but with the emphasis on military strategy. The only fault I noticed is some repetition of content.
Mel Harris
This was LOOONG but interesting. Learned a lot about the civil war and it's military...on both sides. Very cool. Maybe could have been condensed if they put it more chronologically...
Christopher Bounds
Brilliant, as Keegan always is.
Miguel Ángel Moreno
Un correcto manual de la guerra de secesión.
Lane Casteix
Aug 05, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well done but contained a few errors.
Jul 17, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The American Civil War is a fine book by an accomplished British military historian who has the range of knowledge necessary not only to give a detailed account of the Civil War but also to compare it to other wars in other places at other times. For example, he notes that on entering the war both sides had the idea of a decisive Napoleonic battle in mind, a kind of Austerlitz, which would settle things quickly.

But that didn't happen. Keegan offers one major reason why not: Neither side was equi
Mar 02, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I'm only giving it 2 stars because it is sometimes (way too rarely) insightful and I'm not giving it 1 star because it isn't the worst book on the Civil War I've read.

He's a lifelong and famed writer, so I expected the writing to be better than it was. However, I'd have given up any level of purple prose to hear the thoughts of the foremost British Military Historian on the war. A kind of unbiased eye by which to judge my own biases.

Instead I got a mishmash attempt to recap the whole war. This
Daniel Bratell
After reading a book about Vanderbilt I became eager to know more about the American Civil War so this book became the next one on my reading list.

I now know much more about the American Civil War (previous knowledge was: lots of dead people, end of slavery) but not as much as I had hoped. The American Civil War: A Military History is more or less what it says, a lot about the military, especially the generals and not very much about anything else. And still, for a 3-5 year long war it only scra
Jun 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history
A book about the Civil War is rarely the first to introduce its reader into that subject. John Keegan is a well know British military historian, research into the nature of battle makes his "The American Civil War" a valuable contribution to the body of work written on that topic.

What I found new and interesting is his analysis of the conditions in the North and the South before the hostilities begin. From a population of 5 million, 48 thousand owned more than 20 slaves, 3000 thousand owned more
David Roberts
Mar 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The book I read to research this post was The American Civil War by John Keegan which is an excellent book which I bought from kindle. This book must be one of the if not the definitive books on the American Civil War and I can't praise it enough. It reads almost like a thriller and goes into almost every aspect of the war in great detail. Over a million people died in this war so in terms of casualties it is one of the worst wars ever on a par with the 2 world wars. The Union & the Confeder ...more
John Pyrce
May 16, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
American Civil War from a military viewpoint. Three sections: background and forces leading to the war, history of campaigns especially from the view of generals and strategies, and finally a reflection on various facets of the conflict. The bulk is the middle section, but that is the least interesting (to me) since its often a list of names and places I don't know. Important factors for Keegan was that battles were extremely bloody often with 30% causalities, and many battles (some estimate 25 ...more
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Sir John Desmond Patrick Keegan, OBE, FRSL was a British military historian, lecturer and journalist. He published many works on the nature of combat between the 14th and 21st centuries concerning land, air, maritime and intelligence warfare as well as the psychology of battle.

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